“Critical thinking is a lot harder than people think, because it requires knowledge,” – said Joanne Jacobs, modern columnist and writer. Indeed, critical thinking is a process of mind that involves numerous skills, including observation, analyzing, reasoning, and evaluating. Therefore, any statement may be analyzed critically and examined according to logic. As long as logic interrelates tightly to critical thinking, its techniques have significant meaning to critical thinking theory and practice. For example, examining logical fallacies is very useful to critical thinkers, as it helps understanding the most distributed wrong logical chains in human mind.
Logical fallacies vary soundly according to categories, types, and structure. There exist around fifty logical fallacies (Gula 2002), however it is possible to distinguish most popular of them. As long as people often make the similar mistakes for many times, the most distributed of them may serve as demonstrative examples to be examined. Thus, learning popular logic fallacies can bring us closer to understanding reasoning and logic, hence mastering critical thinking skills.
One of the most often-used types of fallacies is Generalization Fallacy, related to inductive category of fallacies. Generalization with simple terms means making statement about the population based on the few samples only. The common logical structure of generalization is:
A belongs to group X, and is Y;
B belongs to group X too, and is Y too;
Therefore, all from group X are Y.
This generalization is faulty, as it is impossible to make accurate judgment about the attributes of group based on attributes of several samples of this group. The premise about sample attribute does not necessarily follow by the conclusion about population attribute. Example of faulty generalization may be the following fallacy:
Susan (A) from my class (X) failed logic exam (Y);
John (A) from my class (X) failed logic exam (Y) too;
Thus, everyone from my class (X) failed logic exam (Y).
Of course it is not proper to make such conclusions, however many people subconsciously consider generalization as a valid logic statement and use it oftentimes. Very popular type of generalization is a Biased Sample, falsely considering typical for the whole population. For example: All Russians drink vodka all the time, because I knew few Russians who were drinking vodka all the time (or because many people say so).
Theo Clark (2006) gives a good example of generalization fallacy made by psychologist Edward Deci about a school students’ parents, “…rewards are an element of their own obsession with achievement. They may all belong to the Sierra Club, but their obsession with success blinds them” …
Another fallacy that is rather distributed is so-called Irrelevant Conclusion. This fallacy is often called with its Greek name Ignoratio Elenchi. It belongs to the group of informal relevance fallacies that mostly present errors in reasoning. In general this fallacy presents an argument that may be valid itself, yet it proves the premise that is not logically related to the conclusion. Its structure is:
A is X, hence it implies Y;
Y has an attribute B;
Thus, A has an attribute B.
There are two most common irrelevant conclusions Red Herring and Tu Quoque. They are rather similar and present diverted argument or changing real issue. To make it more demonstrative, let us see an example of red herring that is very distributed in various advertisements:
A is a toothpaste (X), it implies cleaning teeth (Y);
Cleaning teeth (Y) is necessary for health (B);
Therefore, toothpaste A is necessary for health (B).
Second statement is true, however it does not necessarily lead to such conclusion as does not relate to first statement.
The good example of irrelevant conclusion was set by Bill Clinton (1999) in his radio speech, “…National Government has no business helping communities to improve their schools… But I think strengthening education is national priority.”
There is another type of logical fallacy that is very often used in diverse situations. It is False Dilemma, also called Black and White Thinking and Either/Or Fallacy. This is a component fallacy and involves a statement that is based on two alternative points offered about an issue (usually opposite points) as only options that exist, while the situation has other options. It looks like this:
There is A;
There is B;
It is either A or B.
This fallacy comes from misuse of logical operator or, and is rather distributed in our communication. It is one of the favorite logical fallacies in human life, including everyday interpersonal communication (“It is either me or your baseball, – you must choose!”), public statements (“Vote for our party or stay indifferent to national problems!”), and advertisements (“Use our shampoo or have bad hair”).
Our history has numerous examples when false dilemmas were used in communication. For instance, George Bush (2001) said after September 11th “You are either with us or against us in fight against terror”. However, in this particular case the invalid argument was not made deliberately, but was caused by emotional appeal to emphasize the significance of situation.
Logical fallacies are widely distributed in human communication, and studying fallacies is as important as studying valid arguments. Logical science interconnects with critical thinking soundly; hence learning logical fallacies plays an important role in mastering critical thinking skills. Therefore, application of fallacies to decision making helps gaining experience in critical thinking.
Bibliography Gula, R. (2002). Nonsense: A Handbook of Logical Fallacies. Axios Press. Clark, T. (January 10, 2006). Rewards are bad… okaaay…? Humbug Online, the skeptic’s guide to fallacies and critical thinking. Retrieved November 25, 2006. http://humbugonline.blogspot.com/2006/01/rewards-are-bad-okaaay.html. Clinton, W. (February 20, 1999). The President’s Radio Address. The American Presidency Project. Retrieved November 26, 2006. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=57137. CNN-US. (November 6, 2001). You are either with us or against us. Cable News Network. Retrieved November 27, 2006. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/11/06/gen.attack.on.terror/.
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